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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson (Hfr)

10th century; volume 1; ed. Diana Whaley;

2. Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar (ErfÓl) - 29

Skj info: Hallfrøðr Óttarsson vandræðaskáld, Islandsk skjald, død ved 1007. (AI, 155-73, BI, 147-63).

Skj poems:
1. Hákonardrápa
2. Óláfsdrápa
3. Óláfsdrápa, erfidrápa
4. Eiríksdrápa
5. Lausavísur

Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld ‘Troublesome-poet’ Óttarsson (Hfr) was brought up in Vatnsdalur, northern Iceland, probably in the 960s. He is the subject of Hallfreðar saga (Hallfr), which survives both as a continuous text (ÍF 8, 133-200) and interpolated into ÓT. The main strands of the saga are Hallfreðr’s unhappy relationship with Kolfinna Ávaldadóttir, his travels as trader, fighter and poet, his conversion to Christianity and his devotion to Óláfr Tryggvason, and all these aspects of his life occasioned poetry which partially survives.

Fragments of an early drápa for Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (r. c. 970-c. 995) are extant (Hfr HákdrIII; ÍF 8, 151), but the greater part of Hallfreðr’s court poetry, and the poetry edited in this volume, concerns King Óláfr Tryggvason (c. 995-c. 1000): Óláfsdrápa (Hfr Óldr) and Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar (Hfr ErfÓl). Like other Icelanders, Hallfreðr accepted Christian baptism under the influence of Óláfr. The difficulty, for a poet and pagan, of this switch of religious allegiance is the theme of Hfr Lv 6-10V, and is, according to the sagas, alluded to in his nickname vandræðaskáld, lit. ‘Poet of difficulties’. The sagas agree that the name was bestowed by the king, though they differ about the precise reason (ÓTOdd 1932, 125-6; Hkr, ÍF 26, 331-2; Hallfr, ÍF 8, 155; ÓT 1958-2000, I, 387). Hallfreðr is attributed with a lost Uppreistardrápa ‘Restoration drápa’ (?), supposedly composed to atone for his journey into pagan Gautland (Västergötland, ÍF 8, 178). He is also credited in Hallfr (ÍF 8, 194-5) with an encounter with Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (r. c. 1000-c. 1014) and in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 257, 266, 280) with poetry for him; this is vestigially preserved in Eiríksdrápa (Hfr EirdrV). The saga also shows Hallfreðr presenting a flokkr to the Danish jarl Sigvaldi (ÍF 8, 168) and a poem to the Swedish king Óláfr Eiríksson (ÍF 8, 177-8), but no traces of these survive.

The marriage of Kolfinna, the love of Hallfreðr’s youth, to Gríss Sæmingsson provoked Hallfreðr both early and later in life to compose strikingly inventive stanzas which intertwine themes of yearning love and rivalry (Hfr Lv 1-3, 15-24V), and his níð against Gríss led to legal proceedings and indirectly to the killing of Hallfreðr’s brother Galti (Ldn, ÍF 1, 224; ÍF 8, 189-90). In the course of an adventure in Västergötland (Hfr Lv 12-14V), Hallfreðr met and married Ingibjǫrg Þórisdóttir, who died young, but not before bearing two sons, Auðgísl and Hallfreðr. According to Hallfr (ÍF 8, 196-9), Hallfreðr himself died at the age of nearly forty, from a combination of illness and injury as he sailed through the Hebrides; he was buried on Iona (cf. Hfr Lv 26-7V).

Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar (‘Memorial drápa for Óláfr Tryggvason’) — Hfr ErfÓlI

Kate Heslop 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson, Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 400.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26a   26b   27   28 

Skj: Hallfrøðr Óttarsson vandræðaskáld: 3. Óláfsdrápa, erfidrápa, 1001 (AI, 159-66, BI, 150-7); stanzas (if different): 1 | 2 | 3 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 27 | 28 | 29

SkP info: I, 420

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

14 — Hfr ErfÓl 14I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Kate Heslop (ed.) 2012, ‘Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson, Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar 14’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 420.

Mundit lung it langa
(læsíks) und gram ríkum
(blóð kom á þrǫm þíðan)
þjóð varliga hrjóða,
meðan ítr*vini Áta
innanborðs at morði
— sú gerðisk vel — varði
verðung jǫfurs sverðum.

Þjóð mundit varliga hrjóða it langa lung und ríkum gram — blóð kom á þíðan þrǫm {læsíks} —, meðan verðung jǫfurs varði {ítr*vini Áta} sverðum at morði innanborðs; sú gerðisk vel.

The troop would hardly have cleared the long vessel under the mighty ruler — blood spurted onto the pliant rail {of the poison-whitefish} [SNAKE = Ormr inn langi] —, while the retinue of the prince defended {the glorious friends of Áti <sea-king>} [SEAFARERS] with swords in the battle on board; they performed worthily.

Mss: 61(68ra), 54(65rb), Bb(101ra), Flat(65ra) (ÓT)

Readings: [1] Mundit: mundut 54, Bb, mundi Flat;    lung: lund Bb    [3] þrǫm: þrum 54, Bb    [5] ítr*: ítrs all;    vini: vina all;    Áta: so 54, ‘átu’ 61, ‘ęta’ Bb, ‘atti’ Flat    [7] gerðisk: gerðisk at Flat

Editions: Skj: Hallfrøðr Óttarsson vandræðaskáld, 3. Óláfsdrápa, erfidrápa 14: AI, 162, BI, 153, Skald I, 83, NN §§477, 478, 3215; SHI 2, 317-18, ÓT 1958-2000, II, 277 (ch. 252), Flat 1860-8, I, 487.


The defenders’ swords become blunted and, as Óláfr is distributing new ones, his men notice for the first time that he is wounded. Men on board Ormr inn langi ‘the Long Serpent’ fall from wounds and exhaustion, first in the forecastle and bow, and then amidships.

Notes: [1, 4] mundit varliga hrjóða ‘would hardly have cleared’: Mundit is literally negative, ‘would not’ (mundi, 3rd pers. sg. pret. indic. of munu ‘shall, will, may’, plus negative enclitic -t). The sense is clearly that the enemy had difficulty overcoming Ormr’s crew, so negative mundit plus adv. varliga ‘hardly’ presumably has intensifying effect. Skj B adopts Flat’s reading mundi, printing myndi (the forms are interchangeable). — [2] læsíks ‘of the poison-whitefish [SNAKE = Ormr inn langi]’: The mention of a þíðan þrǫm ‘pliant rail’ suggests that læsíks refers to a ship, probably via a pun on the name of Ormr inn langi ‘the Long Serpent’, Óláfr’s ship (cf. Naðr in st. 10/1 and Note and, via a similar kenning to the present one, fiskr lyngs ‘fish of the heather [SNAKE]’ in Sigv ErfÓl 3/1; NN §477; Ohlmarks 1958, 451). The second element, síks, denotes a whitefish of the Salmonidae family, Coregonus lavaretus. The first element can be interpreted in various ways to produce a snake-kenning. (a) The usual meanings of are ‘malice, deceit, harm, poison’ (LP: 1, 2), and ‘poison-fish’ is plausible as a snake-kenning: cf. hrøkkviáll drekku Vǫlsunga ‘coiling eel of the drink of the Vǫlsungs [POISON > Miðgarðsormr]’ Bragi Þórr 5/3,4III, or ǫlunn eitrs ‘mackerel of poison [SNAKE]’ GunnHám Lv 6/5, 7V (Nj 10). (b) There is some evidence for meaning ‘land’, which could produce a standard snake-kenning of the type ‘fish of the land’ (cf. Meissner 112-14). Hár Lv 2/2, 3 has eikr læbaugs, which could mean ‘oak of the land-ring [SEA > SHIP]’ (see LP: læbaugr, and Note to st. 10/4 above on baugr; Simek 1982, 211 has an alternative explanation), and GunnlI Lv 7/5V (Gunnl 11) has ‘lesik’ or ‘lausik’, which could give læsík(r) ‘land-whitefish [SNAKE]’. According to Gunnlaugs saga (ÍF 3, 84) Gunnlaugr and Hallfreðr were shipmates and friends, and GunnlI Lv 7 was addressed to Hallfreðr. Textual variation of and láð ‘land’ occurs in Þhorn Gldr 8/8. (c) Skj B (following Konráð Gíslason 1895-7, II, 221) emends Hallfreðr’s kenning læsíks to láðsíks ‘land-whitefish’, and Gunnlaugr’s kenning to lautsíkr ‘dale-whitefish’, but emendation seems unnecessary. As to the syntactic role of the cpd, Kock (NN §477) takes læsíks with gram, i.e. ‘Ormr’s lord’, giving a simpler word order. — [3] þíðan þrǫm ‘pliant rail’: Kock (NN §3215) suggests þíðan ‘thawed’ is used in the sense of ‘wet’ here, not ‘agile, flexible’, but his arguments lack sufficient evidence to convince (Foote 1984a, 229; Jesch 2001a, 141). — [5-8]: The helmingr is problematic. In l. 5, ms. vina (m. gen. pl.) ‘of friends’ is difficult to accommodate in the syntax, and the last word is highly variable in the mss. Gen. sg. ítrs ‘glorious’ would seem to qualify jǫfurs ‘of the prince’, but since this is a Type C-line the words occupying positions 2-4 (here ítrs vina) belong together syntactically (cf. Gade 1995a, 123-4). Further, varði ‘defended’ in l. 7 lacks a direct object. (a) Two small emendations are adopted here: of vina to vini (m. acc. pl.), giving a direct object for varði, and of ítrs to ítr, which then forms a cpd with vini, ‘glorious friends’; cf. ítrfermðum ‘splendidly laden’ in st. 17/1. The last word in l. 5 is taken here as Áta ‘of Áti’. The resulting kenning is unusual, but cf. ætt Endils ‘clan of Endill <sea-king>’, hence ‘seafaring princes’ in general, Arn Þorfdr 22/5, 6II. This interpretation is indebted to Kari Ellen Gade. (b) Skj B takes the last word in l. 5 as ôttu ‘had’ (3rd pers. pl. pret. indic. of eiga), and emends twice: vina (m. gen. pl.) ‘of friends’ to vinir (m. nom. pl.) ‘friends’ and varði (3rd pers. sg. pret. indic.) ‘defended’ to varða (inf.) ‘to defend’. Vinir is then the subject of an auxiliary and inf. construction: vinir ítrs jǫfurs ôttu varða sverðum ‘friends of the glorious prince had to defend with swords’, but this does not avoid the difficulty with ítrs jǫfurs mentioned above. — [6] at morði ‘at the battle’: Most eddic and some skaldic examples of simplex morð (often ‘murder’) are clearly pejorative (Hamð 11/6, Akv 32/4, 42/3; Sigv Erlfl 8/8, ESk Eystdr 2/1II), but this is not usually the case for the common phrase at morði (e.g. Þhorn Gldr 4/2, Glúmr Gráf 8/8). — [7] sú gerðisk vel ‘they performed worthily’: refers to the retinue (verðung f.).

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